Fresh herbs are an easy and delicious way to add flavor and color to any dish. If you look at the price of fresh herbs in the grocery store, you might change your mind about using them because they can be expensive.
When you grow your own herbs; whether in your yard, outdoor pots, or in a sunny window, you can simply snip off what you need rather than letting what you don't use from the store go to waste.
You can usually find herbs at your local nursery, retail store or home improvement store for anywhere from $2.50 to $6.00…versus buying a few sprigs at the grocery store for $4 to $5.
The best approach to deciding which herbs to grow is to make a list of herbs you’re most likely to use and where you have the space to grow them. Just like flowers and vegetables, some herbs need more sun and water than others. Also like flowers and other plants, herbs can be annuals or perennials, sometimes depending on where you live and what type of climate you have.
Annuals are those plants that go through an entire life cycle-germinate, grow, flower, produce seed, and die-all in a single growing season. Perennials are plants that survive winter outdoors to produce new growth each summer.
Here’s a list of 12 of my favorite herbs which are easy to grow and easy to use in everyday recipes.
Basil is an annual that likes full sun and rich, moist soil. Basil has an initial subtle peppery flavor that evolves into a slightly sweet flavor, and has a delicate menthol aroma. It tastes great with tomato and mozzarella salads, chicken, eggs, fish, pasta, pizza, potatoes, pork, shellfish, soups, tomato sauces, vegetables, and of course you can make pesto with it. Pick leaves from the top down, rather than cutting off a whole stem. Periodically pinch off the branch tips to encourage the plant to fill out. Remove any flower buds and discard or use as a garnish. Besides being delicious, basil contains a compound called linalool, which helps clear your mind and reduce fatigue.
Chives are a perennial that like full to partial sun and grows in average to rich, moist soil. I can neglect my chives all summer and they still grow and come back year after year. Keeping your chives plant snipped back will cut down on the dried, yellow stems from overtaking the entire clump. They also have insect-repelling properties that can be used in gardens to control pests. Chives have a oniony flavor with a hint of garlic and can be used in recipes calling for onions and taste especially good on baked potatoes, corn on the cob, pasta, garlic bread, fish and soups. Use kitchen shears to snip these onion-y herbs.
This is one of those herbs that some people love and some just hate. A lot of people say they get a “soapy” flavor when they taste it. Cilantro is an annual that likes rich, well-drained soil and full sun. The seed of the cilantro plant is known as coriander and the leaves and seeds taste totally different, so you wouldn’t substitute one for the other. Cilantro tastes great in Chinese and Mexican dishes and chicken, fish, pork, salads and rice dishes. It’s also known as Chinese parsley.
Dill, an annual, can grow in average, sandy or moist soil and prefers full sun. Dill is used in pickling and tastes great in soups, salads, breads, dips and fish. It also makes a beautiful, feathery green filler in flower bouquets. Dill loses its flavor quickly so it’s best to use it fresh as soon after picking as possible. The flavor is destroyed in heating so add it at the end of cooking. The tender stems make great additions to stocks and soups so don’t toss them.
Depending on where you live, marjoram can be an annual or perennial and prefers full sun and rich soil. Marjoram has sweet pine and citrus flavors that pairs well with veggies, chops, fish, chicken, soups, stews, dressings and sauces. Add near the end of cooking as heat destroys the flavor. Some women add marjoram leaves to hot water for a tea, which can help ease the mood swings during your period. It’s also used in treating diabetes, sleep problems, muscle spasms, headaches and back pain. You can use marjoram in place of oregano for a sweeter, less earthy flavor in recipes.
Mint is a perennial that can grow easily in full or partial sun. Even though it prefers rich, moist soil, it (for me) will grow anywhere in my yard. This will grow rampantly and take over other plants so you want to be careful where you plant it. To be honest, I CAN’T kill my mint, even if I try to! Every year I dig up huge amounts of mint to give to all our friends and family and it just keeps spreading and growing. This fragrant, fast-growing herb compliments fruits, vegetables and meats. Add a sprig to a glass of iced tea or make hot, mint tea. And of course, what would a mint julep be without the mint? Or mojitos? You can also make pesto with mint, subbing the usual basil and pine nuts with mint and pistachios. Chop some fresh mint up and sprinkle on vanilla ice cream too! Add some chocolate chips while you’re at it. Mint not only adds a delicious note to your cooking, it can boost energy, alleviate headaches and even calm stomach-aches.
A perennial that prefers full sun, this can grow in average to sandy soil, even though in colder climates, this would be considered more of an annual. It’s also called wild marjoram but tastes totally different than “regular” marjoram. There are many versions of oregano and while having an aromatic, warm, and slightly bitter taste, it can vary in intensity, depending on where it’s grown. It can range from spicy or astringent to more complicated and sweet. Known as the “pizza” herb, this pairs well with Italian-American cuisine, but tastes great on most veggies, meat and fish dinners. The sprigs are great for infusing oils and you can add them to a container of olive oil to use for dressings.
Parsley is a biennial, which grows in full or partial sun and prefers rich, moist soil. The Italian flat-leaf variety (versus curly), has a more fragrant, less bitter taste and holds up to cooking in hot dishes better. Add the Italian variety at the end of cooking so it retains its taste, color and nutrition values more. The curly variety is great as a garnish. Parsley, which has a vibrant taste, is the world’s most popular herb and a rich source of anti-oxidants. Wash right before using. You can use parsley in a lot of dishes like Tabouli and pesto. It’s fabulous as a rub for chicken, lamb and beef when mixed with garlic and lemon zest. You can chop it up and sprinkle on salads, vegetables, soups, tomatoes, sauces and anything and everything grilled.
Rosemary is one of my personal favorites to grow. It’s a perennial that prefers full sun and can grow in sandy soil. In fact, rosemary can pretty much grow anywhere! It’s a woody herb with fragrant, evergreen, needle-like leaves which makes it a beautiful plant in your garden, just for decorative purposes, even if you never used it in cooking. And it’s a perfect choice for xeriscape landscaping. It tastes great in stuffings, roasted meats, chicken, turkey and breads. I put it in a lot of other dishes too, just because I love the taste and smell. You can use the sturdy sprigs as skewers for grilled kebabs, which not only looks cool, but adds a nice flavor. Feeling foggy? One whiff of this herb can sharpen your focus and improve your memory. Ties sprigs of rosemary and thyme together for a pretty and natural air freshener.
Sage is another favorite of mine because I can’t kill it! It’s a perennial that prefers full sun and can grow in sandy soil and deer find it distasteful…plant in in among your flowers and other plants to help deer stay away. You can add it to stuffings, pork, poultry, sausage, egg, and cheese dishes. Some people swear that you can rub the leaves on your skin as a natural insect repellent. Fry the leaves in butter for a pretty garnish.
Tarragon’s a perennial that likes full to partial sun and grow in sandy to rich soil. It has the scent and taste of licorice, which is disliked by many garden pests so it makes a great addition to your garden. It tastes fabulous on chicken, fish and egg dishes but it can overpower, so don’t add too much. It’s also the main flavoring component of Béarnaise sauce. I love adding this to simple scrambled eggs. You can add sprigs of tarragon to vinegar, let steep and you have a lovely tarragon vinegar.
Preferring full to partial sun, this perennial will grow in poor to average soil easily. You can use sprigs, (a single stem snipped from the plat) in stocks and soups or use the leaves in rice, pork, egg, tomato sauce, soup, chicken, potato or vegetable dishes. Thyme is slow to release its flavor, so add in the early stages of cooking.